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Quake 3 Arena Tune-Up Guide

By: Mike Chambers - January 6, 2000


Introduction

Your excited. You just bought a graphics accelerator based on NVIDIA's GeForce 256 and being in a rush to get home, you inadvertently run a few stop lights. You install it in your system, give it a little overclocking luvin', and are ready to show Quake 3 Arena who's in charge.

You immediately head for the graphics options and choose the high quality settings. You proceed to play a few heavy duty matches against 6 bots with the frame rate counter enabled and begin to wonder why performance seems a bit sluggish. After all, you have a GeForce now and think "Hmm...I should be able to play at high resolutions in 32-bit color with all the options cranked to the max."

So you're a hardcore 3D action gamer and have been playing Quake since you were in diapers. You crave the need for speed and switch to 16-bit color and give it another shot. "Ahh, that's more like it, but..."

But you had a taste of playing Quake 3 Arena in 32-bit color. Vivid colors, crisp textures, and the effects of dithering are history. You think "Man, if I could play in 32-bit color, with the performance of 16-bit color, I would...(insert sarcastic remark here)."

Welcome to the world of tweaking. The good news is that Quake 3 Arena has a number of graphics settings which can be tuned to help you find that balance between image quality and performance. It's not rocket science to fine-tune Quake 3 Arena to suit your tastes. Actually, it's pretty simple and kinda' fun.

Here's how. First, come up with a "high quality" initial setting which all benchmark results will be based on and run a benchmark. In my case, I get a baseline result of 59 fps at 800x600@32bpp on the Annihilator. Next, activate a certain option (simple items on), and run another benchmark (59.5 fps). Finally, revert back to the intial setting, activate the next option (marks on walls off), then run another benchmark (64.5 fps). This is a simple process which can be used to determine the increase (or decrease) in performance an option provides.


These are the initial settings used, most of which are based on the standard high quality settings, and system specifications:

Initial Settings (32-Bit Color)

  • Simple Items - Off
  • Marks On Walls - On
  • Ejecting Brass - On
  • Dynamic Lights - On
  • Identify Target - On
  • High Quality Sky - On


  • Lighting - Lightmap
  • Geometric Detail - High (default is Medium)
  • Texture Detail - 4 (default is 3)
  • Texture Quality - 32-bit
  • Texture Filter - Trilinear


  • Gibs On - (cg_gibs 1)
  • Draw Attacker On - (cg_drawattacker 1)
  • Shadows On - (cg_shadows 1)
  • 3D Icons On - (cg_draw3dicons 1)

There are other graphics settings which can increase performance. This page at I.am/Q3A has a detailed list of graphics CVARS (console variables) you can experiment with.

System Specifications

  • Pentium 2-450MHz
  • 128MB RAM
  • Quake 3 Arena Demo - Version 1.11 - Demo001
  • Vsync Disabled
  • Sound Disabled


  • Creative Labs Annihilator (SDR)
    • 145MHz Core/195MHz Memory Speeds
    • NVIDIA Version 4.12.01.0353

  • Creative Labs Annihilator Pro (DDR)
    • 145MHz Core/345MHz Memory Speeds
    • Creative Version 4.12.01.0353

Benchmark results in a bold font indicate a setting that was chosen to achieve a balance between image quality and performance. For example, the results for marks on walls appears in a bold font which I recommend disabling, or turning off. The last entry in each table, called Tuned FPS, is a seperate benchmark result based on taking all the choices (bolded items) into account. The very last table also includes a Tuned FPS showing results from changing to 16-bit color.

Important: The final results between the Annihilator and Annihilator Pro at resolutions of 960x720 and 1024x768 appear closer due to differences in the settings that were used. Texture detail 4 and trilinear filtering were used on the Annihilator Pro while texture detail 3 and bilinear filtering were used at the same resolutions on the Annihilator.


Annihilator - Game Options

  640x480 800x600 960x720 1024x768
Initial Settings 64.8 59.0 46.7 42.0
         
Simple Items On 65.9 59.5 46.9 42.1
Marks On Walls Off 73.6 64.5 48.3 43.0
Ejecting Brass Off 65.8 59.8 47.0 42.1
         
Dynamic Lights Off 68.9 63.7 51.3 46.2
Identify Target Off 65.5 59.4 46.8 42.1
HQ Sky Off 66.1 60.4 47.6 42.6
         
Tuned FPS 79.2 70.3 53.0 47.4

Annihilator Pro - Game Options

  640x480 800x600 960x720 1024x768
Initial Settings 65.7 63.3 56.2 50.6
         
Simple Items On 66.8 64.0 56.7 50.9
Marks On Walls Off 75.0 70.7 59.9 52.6
Ejecting Brass Off 66.6 64.1 56.9 50.9
         
Dynamic Lights Off 69.6 67.4 60.7 53.1
Identify Target Off 66.3 63.6 56.4 50.7
HQ Sky Off 67.2 64.5 57.5 51.8
         
Tuned FPS 80.4 76.3 65.4 57.7

Annihilator - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator Pro - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator Pro - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Disabling marks on walls and dynamic lighting can do wonders for your frame rates. An increase in frame rates of 2-14% for each of these options can be realized depending on the resolution used. The remaining game options don't impact performance as much and you may want to keep them enabled.

Also, notice that the performance of dynamic lighting is significantly better on the Annihilator Pro at 1024x768@32bpp (4.9 vs 10%).


Annihilator - Graphics Options - Demo001 - 32bpp

  640x480 800x600 960x720 1024x768
Initial Settings 64.8 59.0 46.7 42.0
         
Medium Geometry 67.5 60.5 47.4 42.4
Low Geometry 67.7 60.7 47.4 42.4
         
Texture Detail 3 66.7 62.5 52.2 47.4
Texture Detail 2 66.8 63.5 54.9 50.9
Texture Detail 1 66.8 63.8 55.6 51.6
         
16-Bit Textures 66.7 62.4 52.5 47.7
Bilinear Filtering 65.2 62.4 51.1 46.5
         
Tuned FPS 79.2 70.3 66.2 60.4

Annihilator Pro - Graphics Options - Demo001 - 32bpp

  640x480 800x600 960x720 1024x768
Initial Settings 65.7 63.3 56.2 50.6
         
Medium Geometry 68.1 65.4 57.4 51.6
Low Geometry 68.5 65.5 57.5 51.6
         
Texture Detail 3 66.9 65.8 61.9 55.7
Texture Detail 2 67.0 66.1 63.1 57.5
Texture Detail 1 67.3 66.2 63.5 57.7
         
16-Bit Textures 67.1 65.6 60.3 55.9
Bilinear Filtering 65.8 64.2 58.3 54.1
         
Tuned FPS 80.4 76.3 72.4 66.0

Note: I kept texture detail 4 and trilinear filtering enabled on the Annihilator Pro at resolutions of 960x720 and 1024x768. Texture detail 3 and bilinear filtering were used at the same resolutions on the Annihilator.

Annihilator - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator Pro - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator Pro - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator Pro - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Here's where the rubber meets the road. This group of settings can make or break your framerates. The Annihilator, which uses SDR memory, performs admirably at resolutions of 640x480 and 800x600 in 32-bit color. With a fast processor, you will probably want to keep every setting at it's maximum (high geometry, texture detail 4, 32-bit textures, and trilinear filtering).

However, at resolutions of 960x720 and above is where framerates begin to deteriorate with the Annihilator using high quality settings. For example, changing the texture detail from a setting of 4 to 2 at 1024x768 provided a 21.2% increase in framerate.

By no means is playing in 32-bit color at high resolutions out of the question on the Annihilator, but you will probably have to work on performance tuning. You may also want to consider getting a GeForce 256 based on the more powerful DDR memory such as Creative's Annihilator Pro. This analysis clearly indicates that the impact on performance when using greater texture details, 32-bit textures, or trilinear filtering is much less drastic with DDR memory.

As was previously noted, I kept texture detail 4 and trilinear filtering on the Annihilator Pro at resolutions of 960x720 and 1024x768. Rather than use the extra performance offered by the Annihilator Pro at these resolutions, I went ahead and improved on image quality.

I also changed to use 16-bit textures on both the Annihilator and Annihilator Pro due to performance issues in some Quake 3 levels. This information is documented in the Annihilator FAQ.


Annihilator - Other Options

  640x480 800x600 960x720 1024x768
Initial Settings 64.8 59.0 46.7 42.0
         
Gibs Off 67.8 63.0 50.4 45.3
Draw Attacker Off 65.9 59.6 46.9 42.1
         
Shadows Off 68.6 61.1 47.0 42.1
3D Icons Off 68.7 61.1 47.4 42.3 
         
Tuned FPS-32bpp 90.1 78.7 75.6 68.2
Tuned FPS-16bpp 91.5 88.6 90.9 88.6

Annihilator Pro - Other Options

  640x480 800x600 960x720 1024x768
Initial Settings 65.7 63.3 56.2 50.6
         
Gibs Off 68.3 66.6 60.1 54.2
Draw Attacker Off 66.5 64.0 56.6 50.9
         
Shadows Off 69.5 66.4 57.4 51.1
3D Icons Off 69.7 66.2 57.8 51.9
         
Tuned FPS - 32bpp 91.6 86.8 83.4 73.7
Tuned FPS - 16bpp 91.7 91.2 90.4 88.0

Annihilator - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

Annihilator Pro - % Increase In FPS From Initial Settings

You will probably want to turn off gibs and possibly shadows and 3d icons as well.


Conclusion

OK, one more chart to wrap things up. This chart shows the initial and tuned FPS from both the Annihliator (yellow and green bars) and Annihilator Pro (red and blue bars). Just goes to show you how far a little tuning in Quake 3 can pay off!

Annihilator and Annihilator Pro - Inital and Tuned FPS - 32bpp

Note: Texture detail 4 and trilinear filtering were used on the Annihilator Pro at resolutions of 960x720 and 1024x768. Texture detail 3 and bilinear filtering were used at the same resolutions on the Annihilator.

There's no doubt that the graphics in Quake 3 Arena are impressive. Unfortunately, the hardware to run the game at high resolutions with high quality graphics enabled can be rather steep. That's why we tweak, buy faster hardware, or go back to playing Quake or Quake 2.


Screenshots

The following screenshots illustrate the various graphics settings used in Quake 3:



800x600@32-Bit Color

Lightmap Lighting

Full size is 277K

Vertex Lighting

Full size is 294K

Lightmap Lighting

Full size is 321K

Vertex Lighting

Full size is 299K



Texture Detail

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Texture Detail Level 1 Texture Detail Level 2 Texture Detail Level 3 Texture Detail Level 4
Texture Detail Level 1 Texture Detail Level 2 Texture Detail Level 3 Texture Detail Level 4




Lightmap and Dynamic Lighting

Off/On Off/On Off/On Off/On
Dynamic Lights Off Dynamic Lights Off Dynamic Lights Off Dynamic Lights Off
Dynamic Lights On Dynamic Lights On Dynamic Lights On Dynamic Lights On




Marks On Walls

Shotgun Plasma Gun Machine Gun Rocket
Shotgun Plasma Gun Machine Gun Rocket




Assorted Settings

Shadows On Eject Brass On 3D Icons On Draw Attacker
Shadows On Eject Brass On 3D Icons On Draw Attacker On




16-Bit, Bilinear Filtering
16-Bit, Bilinear Filtering
32-Bit, Trilinear Filtering
32-Bit, Trilinear Filtering




Lens Flares

Off On
Lens Flares Off Lens Flares On




Geometry Detail

Low High
Geometry Detail Low Geometry Detail High




Extra High Geometry

r_lodbias -2, r_lodcurveerror 10000, r_subdivisions 1


Normal
Normal Detail
Extra High
Extra High



Gibs

Gibs On Gibs Off
Gibs On Gibs Off


Last Updated on January 6, 2000

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